Vivian Ginter’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2017 came with a pledge from her son, Greg.
“I had no worries at that time about transportation,” she said. “He said ‘I’ll take you every time to your appointments’.”
For the first year, Greg, newly retired, and her neighbour drove her to her medical appointments, but both died in 2018 from cancer within months of each other.
Like so many people with cancer, Ginter, a retired teacher in her 80s, was left with few transportation options. Public transit is not an option for people undergoing treatment. Most of her contemporaries were either dealing with health issues of their own or no longer had licences. And having to travel around the Lower Mainland for cancer treatment and medical appointments is a lot to ask of friends.
“There are very, very many appointments,” Ginter noted.
She turned to the Volunteer Cancer Drivers of BC and has been receiving rides for about 18 months, rides she said are vital to getting her to her medical appointments and chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Abbotsford.
“You’ll never know how many hearts you have eased and spirits you have lifted,” she wrote to what she calls this “wonderful, altruistic and essential organization.”
Ginter said not only have the volunteer drivers made her trips comfortable and enjoyable but the dispatcher, Madelaine Young, has “done an amazing job.” The organization arranges rides for people to and from their surgeries, medical appointments and cancer treatments throughout the Lower Mainland.
“I have never missed or been late for an appointment,” Ginter noted.
She knew about the Volunteer Cancer Drivers, and recalls reading about them in the newspaper. She had also taught with George Garrett’s daughter. Garrett is one of the founders of the volunteer drivers group, created after the Canadian Cancer Society stopped its ride service in 2015.
“I guess because of the word ‘volunteer driver’ you know they’re just going to be top-notch people,” Ginter said. “They are just absolutely wonderful people. I can’t say enough about them. They pick you up. They drive you out to your appointments. They wait for you. They bring you home, and they do it all in such a prompt, polite and friendly way.”
She said she always looked forward the drives because the volunteers are so compassionate, making sure the clients are comfortable and they enjoyed great conversations.
“They made it so pleasant, you almost forgot what you were going for,” Ginter said. “…You get to consider them more as friends than just drivers.”
The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society of B.C. (VCDS) relies on donations to provide service to people and recently received help from a Langley resident.
“We have had a private donation of $30,000 of securities from a Langley resident who made the donation through his financial advisor,” said society president Bob Smith. “The donor not only receives a tax receipt but also benefits from not having to pay capital gains tax because the donation is to a charitable organization.”
He added that the donations will provide funding for a significant number of rides for cancer patients in Langley City and Township. Most cancer patients must go to the BC Cancer Agency centres in Abbotsford, Surrey or Vancouver.
As well, the public stepped up during December to contribute $14,000 through the society’s website.
Funding is always a concern as the registered charity faces increased demand. Another factor is having enough volunteers in the various Lower Mainland communities so the society can fulfill ride requests.
Smith agrees with Vivian Ginter that the drivers are a pretty special bunch of people.
“We have no paid employees, vehicles, facilities or other significant overhead,” he explained. “Over 93 per cent of our $301,000 budget for 2019 is allocated to defray the $0.48/km vehicle reimbursement provided for drivers. The Canada Revenue Agency allowance is $0.58 km. We are proud to state that we keep our administrative costs extremely low and that our volunteer drivers will donate over $60,000 of the vehicle reimbursement back to the VCDS this year, making them our largest single donor entity.”
Transportation is vital because treatments are timed to be as effective as possible and missed treatments increase the risk of the cancer recurring.
And getting to and from treatments can be difficult for people for various reasons. Many cancer patients from young children to the elderly, have neither a family/friend support network nor the financial means to provide assured transportation to their treatment programs. As well, patients can be too sick to drive themselves or take transport such as cabs to and from treatment.
Contributions can be mailed to: Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society (VCDS), Box 45618 Sunnyside Mall, Surrey BC V4A 9N3 or online at www.volunteercancerdrivers.ca.